The divide between citizens in our nation has ordinarily been seen as a racial divide, but when taking a closer into the division inside of these race groups, many would classify it as reverse racism. This illusion that reverse racism is legitimate stems behind the argument that is normally used to prove that people of color are not the only ones that experience racism. Reverse racism is card often pulled by racists to disenfranchise the actuality of their experience. Racism at its core is the intrinsic construction at which a dominant race benefits off of the oppression of others outside of their own race, whether the oppression is beneficial to the majority or not. So there is no such thing as reverse racism because it’s not possible for a minority group to oppress the majority. However, many times the term reverse racism is used to defend the discrimination that occurs within a singular ethnic group, when in fact the correct term would be colorism.
Colorism is the discrimination of a person based on their skin shade but this phenomenon is subversive, its effects have real consequences for people of color. All people are affected by this because the significance of skin color is a tax of being a visual species. Colorism is an “unconscious prejudice” shaped by the culture and history that “castes hierarchies that privilege those who are physically and culturally whiter and punish those who are darker”(Vedantam). People of color, specifically black women experience this phenomenon in the worst ways because it promotes this idea of exclusion within your own identity, “colorism affects both genders, but the complexion hierarchy is more central in the lives of women than men” (Keith). The root of this pandemic prejudice is slavery where the closer a slave was to a white complexion, they had a better chance to experience preferential treatment that lighter-skinned “house slaves” experienced in contrast to a darker skinned “field slave” (Finkelman, Miller, and Macmillan). The dynamic between the house saves and the field slaves was fragile because the preferential treatment given by the masters to the house slaves created a jealous culture throughout the plantations.
Malcolm X explained the connection between the master and his “house-negro” perfectly, “he dressed like his master. He wore his master’s second-hand clothes. He ate food that his master left on the table. And he lived in his master’s house–probably in the basement or the attic–but he still lived in the master’s house”(X). The treatment towards female slaves of a lighter complexion was similar to the male house-slaves, except a lot of times they received favoritism because the lighter skinned women were the offsprings, or somehow related to their master.
Light skinned women worked in the house close to the master doing domestic work. They were less likely to get beaten, and worked to death; unlike the darker female slaves who were more likely to be treated like animals. This preferential treatment of the light skin versus dark skin person created a culture between the slaves that has manifested its way into the 21st century.
The idea the light skin is better than dark skin started during slavery and has created an internalized racism within the African-American culture and for the rest of society. Beauty standards for women have changed all throughout the 20th century, but one standard that continues to cancer society is the light skin is more desirable, and its effects on the self-esteem of young girls is detrimental to humanity. Studies like the Clark Doll test were first performed in the 1930’s by African-American psychologist Dr. Kenneth Clark and Dr. Mamie Clark. They asked black children to choose preferences between black and white dolls, using questions like, “which doll is the dumb doll,” and “which doll is the ugly doll?”, and all their physical features were the same except for their skin color. The experiment showed that the majority of the kids choose the white dolls for the more desirable characteristics (Bernstein 197). The significance of these experiments prove that this slave mentality, that anything light is better and smarter, plays a large role in the mental development of not just the young African-American child, but detrimental to society as whole.
The representation of black women in hollywood playing positive supporting or lead roles, whether it’s music videos, television, or movies- the actress is more than likely a light skinned women therefore “perpetuating the belief that a black woman must have light skin and straight or curly hair to be cast as a leading lady”(Onyejiaka). Academy Award winner, Viola Davis, a relatively dark skin women who plays the leading role in “How to Get Away With Murder” explained in an interview that “if you are darker than a paper bag, then you are not sexy, you are not a woman, you shouldn’t be in the realm of anything that men should desire”(Davis). Black women with more Eurocentric features are given roles and photographed in a more flattering form, and Davis explained that “dark skin women” in hollywood always playing roles of “crack-addicts and prostitutes”(Davis). The proof of hollywood favoring black women who have a closer proximity to whiteness adds to the systemic problem within the African-American community itself. Representation has always been important for young people, but when young dark-skin black girls only see themselves in negative, grimy roles on television they are conditioned to have lower self-esteem, less positive body image, and identity dissatisfaction.
“The implication is that images containing idealized women have an impact on satisfaction with one’s own body image” in some black women (Fultz). It also continues to igraine the slave mentality into the black community as a whole furthering the perception that lighter-skin women are superior to dark. While colorism creates a bias for black women because of their hue, it also affects women in the issues of perceived attractiveness. In issues of likeability and attractiveness in the black community the general institution of courtship is still troubled by the slave mentality- light is right. Dark skinned African-American women are at a disadvantage in a society where whiteness of the skin is favored as a necessity to be beautiful.
An experiment was done with African-American women and men and each gender voted on the other on rates of attractiveness, “of the five hues of women that were shown to participants, the lightest category was rated the highest in perceived attractiveness. ..
. The results showed that skin color was the second strongest predictor of attractiveness to members of the opposite sex, second only to weight”(Fultz). Many times a woman’s worth is dictated by her looks in the eyes of men, and so this discrimination shown by black men towards black women is problematic in the black community causing resentment and an unhealthy desire to adhere to mens expectation as well as causing animosity between all black women. A result of this competition between black women is evident in places one wouldn’t expect. Many HBCU (Historically Black College) campuses, black sororities (and fraternities) would use such “paper bag test” to determine what girls could belong in the higher tier sororities.
Greek life is supposed to symbolize sisterhood between women, especially women of color at historically black colleges, but colorism affects their everyday lives. Colorism is the discrimination of a person based on their skin shade but this phenomenon is subversive, its effects have real consequences for people of color. People of color, specifically black women experience this phonominam in the worst ways because it promotes this idea of exclusion within your own identity.
With countless examples in mainstream media there is no denying that colorism exist. And the Eurocentric expectations forced upon black women creates enmity within the black community. It’s no mystery why lighter skin is more generally appealing to the majority, because light is closest to white which is seen as less threatening, but in a society that already groups the black race as an other it makes it that much more destructive to have your own community isolate you for having a darker complexion. The music, beauty, television and fashion industries need to do a better job at representing every type of black women in the limelight.
In addition to better representation in the media, black women, particularly lighter skinned women need to advocate for their sisters instead of encouraging the disrespect. In Fact, many well known black female influencers like Zendaya, Kerry Washington, and Halle Berry have spoken out about this injustice and as light skinned women they say they’re very aware of their “light-skin privilege” and use their platform to make change (Onyejiaka). Black women are already put into a box and neglected by society but in recent years there has been progress made to shine a light on black women. This mainstream “Black Girl Magic” movement is amazing and long overdue, but when choosing to only celebrate one type of black girl, we then are doing a disservice to society as a whole by promoting the slave mentality of “house slave” and “field slave.” Inclusion is everything when fighting injustice, and so society is making strides to change accepted normalities, but there is always room for growth.